For many Cuyahoga County residents, the early weeks of March 2020 were the last normal weeks before Ohio went into lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The devastating effects of COVID-19 meant the need for our programs and services increased dramatically. While our daily lives changed to fit the new normal, so did the way Step Forward addressed the needs of individuals and families.
COVID-19 Emergency Assistance
To support residents facing difficulties, Step Forward expanded its emergency assistance services in response to the pandemic. Residents who were at or below 200% of the federal poverty level were able to apply for assistance with rent, mortgage and utility payments, transportation services, child care assistance, food, medical assistance and more. By March 31, 2021, Step Forward’s COVID-19 emergency assistance served over 1,600 people and utilized over 2.5 million in emergency service dollars. Step Forward is still providing COVID-19 emergency assistance for residents who have been impacted by the pandemic, applicants can now apply and submit all required documents online via the agency website.
If you are in need, you can learn more and apply for assistance here.
When child care facilities first closed, supporting our students and families was the highest priority for Head Start staff. Families were given take-home kits that included school supplies, books, snacks, and tablets for students who needed access to technology to follow along with virtual activities. To keep both students and parents engaged during virtual learning, Head Start staff hosted literacy events, an interactive science fair and Zoom classes. Along with educational needs, Head Start staff wanted to ensure that students’ basic needs were being met. Typically, when students attend Head Start in person, they received breakfast, lunch, and snacks. When child care facilities closed and families expressed a need for meals, our staff provided food and directed families to additional community resources. Head Start also continued to provide health screenings during closures with home visitors completing drive-by health and safety visits for all Early Head Start and Head Start students. This past March, Head Start students began returning to in-person learning while following COVID-19 safety guidelines. Step Forward child care facilities intend to fully reopen come fall 2021.
Early Head Start ages birth-3 and Head Start ages 3-5 are currently enrolling, Learn more and enroll your child here.
When safety guidelines called for in-person events to be limited, personal development staff began working on ways to continue to support clients virtually. Step Forward’s counseling services switched over to a telehealth format where clients could still connect with licensed social workers and paraprofessionals to continue their assessments and treatment plans. In addition to counseling, the Baby and Mommy Support Program (BAMS) hosted a virtual baby shower for 20 expecting mothers. The virtual shower included games where mothers could win gifts and also featured an informative documentary on maternal depression. Currently, personal development staff are preparing to start virtual group sessions for parenting, domestic violence and anger management services in mid-April.
You can learn more about Step Forward’s personal development programs here.
When in-person events were limited due to the pandemic, Step Forward’s monthly job fairs went virtual. Beginning in July of 2020, the job fairs - which connect job seekers to actively hiring employers - received over 500 registrations across 6 fairs, 104 of which were Step Forward clients. Out of the Step Forward client attendees, 29 secured employment. As our community continues to navigate life in a pandemic, Step Forward continues to host virtual job fairs into 2021.
Register for our next virtual job fair on April 29, 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. here.
Step Forward’s Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) made temporary changes during the first year of the pandemic to help support residents facing difficulties. HEAP– which helps income-eligible residents maintain their utility service- extended its traditional deadlines for crisis programs. In addition to the HEAP’s deadline extension, staff also worked to limit face-to-face interactions while continuing to accept appointments through telephone interviews and mailed hard-copy applications. HEAP wrapped up its Winter Crisis Program this past March and is currently preparing to begin its Summer Crisis program on July 1.
You can learn more about Step Forward’s energy assistance programs and apply for assistance here.
With school and workplace closures, plexiglass dividers and face masks, we can feel more separated and alone than ever. Through the pandemic and into the future Step Forward is here for you and is committed to helping people find hope, believe in their future and take steps to make it a reality.